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Maidu all-stars escape Antelope to reach title game

Team must beat Tri-City twice to claim section crown
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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A game that leaned heavily on the long ball just had to come down to a deep shot to left-centerfield. After the two teams took turns leaving the yard, the final blast came up a few feet short as Maidu hung on for a nail-biting 7-6 win Tuesday night in the Little League Section 4 Major division all-star tournament at Mann Park in Folsom. Maidu led 7-4 entering the home half of the sixth, but those final three outs proved elusive for right-hander Joseph Zanolli. Antelope National plated two runs to draw within a single tally and had the bases loaded for Montel Aaron. Aaron lifted a towering fly ball to left-center that looked like it had a shot to get out until Maidu left-fielder Jordan Couch and centerfielder Coleman Harrigan converged right in front of the fence. Both players went to the ground, heightening the drama until Harrigan raised his glove to show the umpire the ball. “I thought he hit the last ball well and I was just hoping it would stay in the park and give Jordan and Coleman a chance,” said Maidu manager Greg Zanolli. “They both went hard after the ball and Coleman came up with the great catch.” The grab provided the conclusion to a dramatic contest that ends the season for Antelope and sends Maidu into the championship round of the section tournament. The hits for Maidu did not come in bunches as they had the day before, but five of the squad’s seven hits went for extra bases. The clear leader of the offensive explosion was leadoff man Jake Rodrigues, who ripped a pair of home runs along with a two-bagger. Rodrigues got Maidu on the board first in this contest, lofting a double down the right-field line to open the game. The starting pitcher slid across the plate on a passed ball to give his team a 1-0 lead. Antonio Torres banged a two-out double for Antelope in the home half of the inning, but was stranded there. Rodrigues and Aaron, the starting pitchers in this one, both allowed base runners in the early innings, but until the Antelope third, there was no additional scoring. In the third, the Maidu defense betrayed Rodrigues, setting the stage for his one costly mistake. With one out, Christian Flores singled, He was safe at second base on a fielder’s choice when the throw sailed into the outfield to put two aboard with just one out. Another ground ball that should have ended the inning resulted in a fielder’s choice for Austin Thurman that scored Antelope’s first run. A fielding error on a ground ball further extended the stanza and Maidu paid the price as Daniel Armendarez unloaded a long three-run home run to left-center that put Antelope on top 4-1. Maidu wasted no time in responding. Nolan Murphy blooped a ball down the right field line that the outfielder started back on. When he was unable to get back to the ball, Murphy was on second with a double. Couch then lofted one the other direction down the left field line for a two-bagger, but Murphy had to stop at third. Peter Schofield’s fly ball to center field was just deep enough to score Murphy standing on the sacrifice fly. Unfortunately for Aaron, his pitch nipped Justin Burnett to bring up Rodrigues with two on. He went opposite field, driving the ball out over the barrier in right-center. The three-run shot put Maidu back on top 5-4. Joseph Zanolli, who took over on the bump after the third-inning home run, walked the bases loaded in the Antelope fourth, but got a ground ball to Rodrigues at shortstop to end the inning with the score unchanged. “Unfortunately he (Rodrigues) came up with a sore arm in the third inning so we were forced to use one more pitcher than we had planned,” Greg Zanolli said. “(Joseph) Zanolli came in and pitched well for us and although his command wasn't quite there tonight the defense was able to come up with the big play.” A relatively uneventful fifth frame gave way to the high drama of the sixth. First it was Maidu and Rodrigues. Jake Monsour singled to open the inning and after a strikeout, Rodrigues hammered the first pitch he saw on a string high into the trees behind the left field fence. Flores, the Antelope reliever, shut it down from there and turned it over to his offense. “Rodrigues came up big for us with the five RBIs on the two home runs,” Greg Zanolli said. “I am happy for him as he is really swinging the bat well.” Ryan Mitchell hit a towering home run to straightaway center to open the final frame. That was followed by a walk and two strikeouts, but the final out was not going to be easy. Antonio Torres singled to keep it going and Zanolli walked Armendarez to load the bases while working very carefully. “In that last inning, with two on I was very concerned with their No. 4 hitter who had hit the homerun earlier and also hit one against us in the first game they beat us,” Greg Zanolli said “Their whole team was getting great at-bats, being very patient laying off the off-speed so we knew it would come down to a fast ball and Aaron was taking great cuts. We were fortunate the ball stayed in the park.” Zac Coates then hit a ball in the hole at short for a run-scoring infield hit, his fourth knock of the contest. That set the stage for Aaron, who sent the fly ball that found Harrigan’s glove for the game-ending out. “You have to tip your hat to the Antelope team to come back after their tough loss in the suspended game and the injury to their leadoff hitter Brian Goad and jump on us early and then show no quit in that last inning,” Greg Zanolli said. “Aaron pitched a great game for them.” Coates, with his four singles, and Torres, who had a double and a single, led the Antelope National nine hit offensive attack. For Maidu, Rodrigues was the only player with more than one hit, as he had the three extra base hits in the game. Maidu must now take on Tri-City as it seeks to win the section title and earn a trip to the Northern California Divisional tournament being hosted this year by Vacaville Central Little League. The Section 4 champion is scheduled to play a 3 p.m. game Saturday in the opening round at Centennial Park in Vacaville. “Wednesday night we have Harrigan, who comes eligible again for pitching to face a very good Tri-City team,” Greg Zanolli said. “I am very proud of our boys as they continue to battle and stave off elimination. There are 12 teams left in Northern California and we feel very fortunate to still be one of them.” Because Tri-City is unbeaten and remains in the winner’s bracket, it must win just one game against Maidu to take the tournament. Maidu needs a victory in Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game at Mann Park to force a winner-take-all rematch Thursday night.